I haven’t had time to read much in the hectic months of June and July, but finally the dust has settled and I can start to get back into it. I did manage to knock a few down, including some favorites from my childhood and some totally out of my usual genre.
I find it easy to sympathize with a lot of marginalized groups in American society, especially immigrants of color, because of my own background. But I have to admit, one marginalized group I have never really thought about was the American hillbilly. I guess it has to do with my impression that poor as they may be, they are still privileged, self-entitled, and xenophobic–so what do they care about having an immigrant’s sympathy right? Admittedly, that view of a hillbilly is based off of some unsavory stories and encounters and is probably not very informed, which is why I jumped on the chance to read this book: please enlighten me.
Vance’s memoir was a really fast read full of anecdotes that paint a harsh yet colorful life growing up in a community of Kentucky hillbilly transplants. He does a great job at shedding light on some of the problems facing the hillbilly community (broken families, drugs and alcohol, etc), but it was quite confusing trying to figure out what he thinks are the roots of these problems. He says that hillbillies have lost that hardworking spirit of the older generations and that their poverty has a lot to do with themselves. Then he seemingly contradicts that by saying that the government is failing them and that they don’t try because they see the system as rigged against them. Then he ends in a humblebrag about how he’s lucky to have made it out of hillbilly purgatory and on to Yale thanks to a lot of luck in having some good people intervene in his life, but also because he has the qualities of a successful person.
I was intrigued at the beginning in being able to get a glimpse of hillbilly culture from someone who grew in it. But I ended the book feeling like maybe since he’s made it out of there he doesn’t really have a true finger on what is going on in those communities anymore. I really want to believe that he is the civilized voice of the American hillbilly, but sadly I think the true voice is a lot less…moderate…than his.
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
While looking for books for Ellie at the library recently, I picked up a few of the Little House books in a bout of nostalgia. Just like when I was a little girl of 9 or 10, I devoured them. In re-reading these books, I was really quite surprised by how differently I see things now that I have more of a historical context to put the stories in. While I still love the stories, certain things that went over my head when I was little now give me pause. Especially disturbing are the really non-PC descriptions of Native Americans and the sentiment expressed by one of the characters that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” I think ultimately Wilder paints an accurately complicated view of Native Americans: they are portrayed as savage and frightful, but also proud and righteous and very human–especially those Indian babies or “papoose” that Laura was obsessed with! They threaten the happy little homesteads of the white settlers yet it is undeniably sad that they have to leave what was originally their land. I can feel her inner struggle in her writing.